TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION.……................….................….................................................1 “Renaissance Avenue” ........................................................................................3 “New Mural to Brighten Cooper-Young Entrance” .........................................…..5 “Companies, developers use art to project image, enhance space” ...............….6 “Sculptures’ color, form, texture to bring Zen with a spin to Dalstrom Park” .......7 “Moving Forward Together” …….........................................................................8 “Patch Work” ……………………………………..............................……………….9 “Lee, Myatt Works ‘Best in Nation’” ……………..............................……...........10 “Artwork gets new windows and fresh paint” ....................................................11 “Word pictures” .................................................................................................13 “Leadership Academy fellows” ………………..............................……………....15 “War Stories” …………………………….............................................………..…16 “Performing Artifacts” .............................................................................…...….17 “Show Me Yours” ..............................................................................................18 “’Ugly building’ may get mural makeover” .....................................................…19 “Artist creates mosaic with help of middle school students, faculty” .................20 “Creating Legends” ...........................................................................................22 “Lasers at play Downtown in ‘Emerald Aura’ project”........................................23 “Painting the Town” ……......................................................................……......24 “New UrbanArt Director” ...................................................................................27 “Weeden Named to UrbanArt Post” ..................................................................29 “UrbanArt Commission Looks to Color Downtown” ..........................................30 “Q&A: Carissa Hussong” ...................................................................................31 Cancer Survivor Park ........................................................................................32 “Frayser getting urban art” ...…..........................................................................34
INTRODUCTION Artists paint more than pictures. Artists depict social values, collective identity, and self-understanding. They help design cultural heritage, shape economic development, and draw community involvement. Artists give color to civic life. In Memphis, Tennessee, the UrbanArt Commission not only recognizes the importance of artists and their work to communities but also believes that art is fundamental in the building of a sustainable society in which all citizens’ voices are valued. UrbanArt asserts a mission to enhance the cultural vibrancy of its community through the development of public art in Memphis and the Mid-South region. A 501c3 non-profit organization, UrbanArt is funded in part by ArtsMemphis, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and donations from private citizens. The goal of UrbanArt is to enable community groups to effectively shape the civic identity of their neighborhoods with grassroots public art projects. To foster community collaboration, UrbanArt partners with a variety of community stakeholders—such as neighborhood groups, private developers, municipal authorities—and acts as project manager for both the ‘Percent for Art’ programs of the City of Memphis and Memphis City Schools. UrbanArt also offers various programs to promote community engagement, public art production skills, and arts advocacy. These programs include youth education sessions in photography and mural painting, professional development classes for local artists interested in public art projects, and advocacy workshops to inform citizens on how to effectively support the arts in public forums.
Founded in 1997, today, over 100 public art projects and educational programs in a range of media have made the public realm more dynamic thanks to the efforts of UrbanArt. It has endowed the region with sculptures, murals, and mosaics featured in parks, middle schools, and City Hall—to only name a few of the myriad locations impacted. The organization has helped enhance gateways, beautify roadways, advise a collegiate mural program, and cultivate ties between local businesses and the community at large. Even at its home on Broad Avenue, UrbanArt features in the rejuvenation of its neighborhood, which was formally recognized as an art district by the City of Memphis in 2009. In the following pages, UrbanArt looks back on some of the recent headlines made since 2007: from completed public art projects and administration changes to nationally recognized Memphis artworks and the 10th anniversary of the organization. Perhaps even more, this collection of press celebrates Memphians— their creativity, their communities, and their passion for living life writ large. “People here have this exuberance about what they’re doing that can influence how we see our place in the world,” said John Weeden, Executive Director of UrbanArt, about Memphis. “That, to me, is incredible.”
“We looked at Peabody Place and Cooper-Young, but we found them prohibitive for the amount of space available,” said Weeden. “We are currently in a building that I believe is 100 years old and had previously been used as an upholsterer’s shop.” The group has three times as much space as they had previously and pay less than they did Downtown. When Larry Schmitt bought a two-story building on the corner of Broad Avenue and Collins Street in 1993, he knew the place needed some TLC. “I walked in and thought, oh, the floor’s pretty dirty,” said Schmitt. Actually the building had a dirt floor. But after several incarnations as various types of businesses, it is set to bloom into a modern, upscale family restaurant, the likes of which can be found throughout the Cooper-Young business district. Despite the building’s proximity to a shadowy warehouse adjacent to the Hollywood PetStar across the street, Jason and Rebecca Severs, the owners of Bari Ristorante near Overton Square, chose the building’s 2,000-square-foot downstairs for their new lunch and dinner spot to be called Three Angels Diner. They plan to open this summer (see Restaurant Insider, Page 23). Like the building, the western end of Broad has started to emerge from leftover obscurity caused by the rerouting of Sam Cooper Boulevard into a hot spot for visual arts. And art is something that residents can bank on. “We knew there was a burgeoning arts presence on Broad Avenue and had been for years with a number of skilled artists and artisans on the street in live/work spaces – these two-story storefront buildings where they would have their living quarters upstairs and their production facilities downstairs,” said John Weeden, executive director of the UrbanArt Commission, which in 2008 moved to 2549 Broad from an office suite Downtown that it shared with two other nonprofits. The group was attracted by low rent, easy access to Sam Cooper, Interstate 40 and the Parkways, and the growing sense that Broad would be reborn as the next Memphis arts district.
‘Viper’s den’ That’s exactly how Cooper-Young and the South Main Arts District gained their identities: by appealing first to artists, whose livelihoods depended on finding inexpensive places to live and work. Upscale businesses followed and rent increased in both areas. Hamlett Dobbins, an artist and art curator at Rhodes College, was among those who took a chance on Broad back in the day. Dobbins moved his wife and two children from Kimbrough Towers in Midtown to a two-story storefront with a threebedroom apartment above a space he uses for art exhibitions called Material. He found himself sandwiched between the photographer who suggested he look into the building and a stained-glass artist’s studio. The price was right, but the neighborhood was clearly challenged by two rowdy bars nearby. “It was a real viper’s den,” said Dobbins. “We would come outside and there would be 6-foot transvestite prostitutes in fishnet stockings going in there. Or we would pull out of the parking lot in the back and there would be prostitutes in cars with their johns, there would be drunk rednecks (urinating) on our fence and people who were clearly high wandering around.” On Friday and Saturday nights, parades of motorcycles would thunder down the street making it difficult for Dobbins’ children to sleep. Then the artists of Broad watched as Sam Cooper and all of its traffic shifted one block south to an area that years ago had been cleared for a continuation of Interstate 40 through the heart of Midtown, a development that never happened. “Huge areas of property had been demolished to make way for the interstate and that really hurt the neighborhood,” said David Brown, owner of Splash Creative, an ad agency that left Downtown in 2008 and moved to Sam Cooper, a block away from Broad. “That whole line of property became Sam Cooper Boulevard,” said Brown, who is president of the Historic Broad Avenue Business Association. “So we still have a physical division between Broad Avenue and the area that moves south toward Binghampton.” Mixed use Still, the street became walkable. One of the bars that plagued Dobbins’ family was sold and became The Cove, an upscale cocktail bar. Because Broad has four lanes that were no longer needed, the business association petitioned for – and was granted – angled parking spaces fronting the stores.
Now 16 arts- or design-related businesses are on the street including T. Clifton Art, a commercial gallery and custom frame shop, which was lured away from a previous location on Summer near Highland Street. Owner Tom Clifton is planning an expansion in the coming year. “To become an arts district, I think you’ve got to have artists live in the neighborhood. That’s crucial,” said Weeden. “That’s why Broad Avenue is more dynamic (than other neighborhoods) in some regards in terms of art production because the folks here are making art not just because it’s their passion, but because it’s their living.” Weeden also points to the slowly growing number of restaurants on the street, which also attracts nonresidents. In previous years, Broadway Pizza was the lone stalwart eatery. “You need a mix of different activity – the kind of amenities where you can meet people and have a conversation over food and drink,” said Weeden. “Slowly things are building to where you have an around-the-clock culture centered around the arts.” The third element Weeden mentioned is residential growth. That remains a challenge for Broad. “There’s not a great deal of residential real estate here, so it can only accommodate so many art studios and live/work spaces,’ said Weeden. “But that can change. In the future it could be opened up to where residential condo type development could happen.” Brown said the north side of Broad, which is currently zoned for light industrial use, could be the best option for residential and commercial development. A dance company called Collage Dance and organizers of the Junkyard Museum are exploring warehouse spaces north of Broad. Modeled after the City Museum of St. Louis, the Junkyard Museum, which offered a two-week summer camp this June, will offer interactive, musical sculpture exhibitions made entirely of recycled and found objects. What’s more, the businesses have started raising funds for development through the well-attended Arts Walk in October for the last six years. On July 23, the business association hosted a second artwalk called the Summer Walk. A Broad future In 2006 neighbors and business owners participated in a citysponsored charette to investigate the future potential of Broad Avenue. A charette is a planning process whereby leaders in various community disciplines from across the country meet the locals and perform a study on how to rehabilitate and reinvent a neighborhood. “The Office of Planning and Development has been working for years on a unified development code,” said Brown. “They brought together a lot of planners around the country to do a charette here. It was done then as a test of the unified code that
the OPD was working on. We were the guinea pig and we were very glad to be.” The result was a strategic development plan called the Broad Avenue Plan, which includes increasing street parking, green spaces and sidewalks, as well as turning warehouses into conglomerations of retail bays. The plan also gives the business association some muscle in dealing with property owners whose buildings are not up to code or not in character with the rest of the street. The Land Use Control Board (LUCB) on June 10 passed the OPD’s recommendation to support the Broad Avenue Plan. “(The vote) went pretty quickly, it was really obvious that everyone was in favor of it,” said Brown, who attended the LUCB meeting along with Robert Montague of the Binghampton Development Corp. “It was unanimously passed. I think planners look for local people who are willing to take a little bit of risk and do a lot of hard work. And that’s what it takes to bring back an urban neighborhood that’s seen better days but has good history.” The plan will move on to the City Council. The Severs look forward to an artistic traffic roundabout, which, according to the plan, will be in the same block as their new restaurant. “We’ve been looking for a space and we’ve had this concept for about two years, but we weren’t thrilled about anything we’d seen so far,” said Jason Severs. “This space we were thrilled about.” In March 2009 city councilman Jim Strickland wrote a resolution naming Broad Memphis’ newest arts district, a piece of recognition that has artists and business owners thinking about how the avenue can remain distinctive among Memphis’ other arts districts. “I think that there is some feeling that South Main and Cooper-Young, as vibrant and quirky and great as they are, have become more mainstream,” said Weeden. “That has to do with the rising rent and the businesses that are able to pay those types of leases. “They tend not to be live/work spaces that traditional artists can cover. I do think there’s a pioneer spirit to Broad Avenue that’s very raw. Because of the way that the real estate parcels are configured, I don’t ever see it being gentrified to the point of South Main or Cooper-Young.” Dobbins, for his part, said that he hopes the neighborhood doesn’t become too commercialized too quickly, but a few more creature comforts would be welcomed. “Think about it,” said Dobbins. “Do you ever really go to South Main to look at art? We try to keep a low profile here, but if it means that there would a bagel shop within 4 walking distance of my house, I would love that.”
Art and commercial real estate may seem like strange bedfellows, but they have a long intertwined history. Rockefeller Plaza in New York City was developed in the early 1900s and features many examples of the Art Deco movement, including the iconic statue of Atlas holding up the world. This is a prime example of corporations making bold statements with public art and how they want to service clients, according to John Weeden, executive director of the UrbanArt Commission. “They want to do it with style,” he says. “They want to make the experience enjoyable and memorable. They want to be even inspirational so you like the feeling of doing business with that company and patronizing that space.” The physical atmosphere in a commercial property projects feelings of comfort or excitement. “It makes you convey those feelings onto a business you’re going to work with or be a customer of,” Weeden says. In March 2002, Memphis joined many American cities by implementing a “percent for art” program, obligating public building projects to have 1% of their budgets dedicated to art. This ties in well with UrbanArt, which has helped complete more than 80 public art projects since 1987. The program has helped add to public art in Memphis, especially Downtown, where there are a lot of businesses, Weeden says. “The history of public art in Memphis has been fairly traditional, like many cities across America, dedicated to monuments and memorials, the public narrative,” he says. The Tom Lee Memorial is a good example of this, providing education about a man who saved 32 people from the Mississippi River in 1925. “He’s a hero, so we erect monuments to heroes because they embody the better part of the human spirit which we aspire to as a society,” Weeden says. Art has also found its way into many of Memphis’ commercial buildings. “In most of your significant buildings, you will find art,” David Peck, president of Peck Development Co., says. “After a while you build these edifices and you run out of something that is unique.” Peck, who founded and led Weston Cos. through many significant development projects, was heavily involved in developing the Crescent Center and Renaissance Center, two of the higher-end office buildings in the East Memphis submarket. Art had its place in these projects. The Crescent Center has a four-story atrium, where the developers hung a 25-foot tall by 20-foot wide weaving. “It softened up the lobby, which has a lot of granite,” Peck says. “We also put up some paintings.”
In the mid-1980s, Peck saw a lot of large bronze sculptures put outside of office properties, particularly in Dallas and Atlanta. Weston’s parent company back then, Vantage Cos., had a large art project outside its Las Colinas, Texas, office building. It involved statues of 16 horses running through a six-inch deep pool. Where their hooves hit the water, there were fountains to make it look like they were splashing. “It was the most elaborate one I’ve ever seen,” Peck says. While a developer could spend $150,000-$200,000 for large sculptures, it’s a fraction of a large commercial project’s overall cost. “It’s primarily another amenity, something to set it apart from other buildings,” Peck says. Statues don’t have the market cornered when it comes to outside corporate art. Union Centre LLC spent more than $350,000 to add 10 interchangeable art panels and a 30-foot by 20-foot LED screen to its office building at 1331 Union. Downtown, the Falls Building is adding a 20-foot tall Memphis-themed mural in the lobby. It fits the building, which houses many pro-Memphis organizations, such as the Greater Memphis Chamber, the Riverfront Development Corp. and Memphis Tomorrow, according to leasing agent Bentley Pembroke, a senior leasing associate with Commercial Alliance Management LLC. “Your lobby for a building sets the mood for the property,” he says. “So coming into a well put-together lobby is important for an office building.” Historically, one of the primary reasons commercial developers have incorporated art in their projects is to distinguish their property as being innovative, creative and forward-thinking, which not only enhances their prestige in the community, but also gives back to its client base, according to Weeden. “They’re projecting, almost like an ambassador would do, what they want the community to think of their business, not only in terms of their skill sets or their business acumen, but also their community connectivity,” he says. “When businesses collect or commission art pieces, they’re making a statement about who they are as a corporation: One that is culturally savvy, one that is well-educated and wants to do business in a bold and innovative manner, which is not only going to generate revenue, but which is also going to influence the culture in the city where they do business.”
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Memphis gets its own Park Güell next week with the installation of a whimsical sculptural series in Southwest Memphis’ Dalstrom Park. The seven-piece creation, titled “Rock City,” references the rural/urban dichotomy of a city park with shapes that are rock-like yet purposefully modern in look and feel. The artist, Suzy Hendrix, says her concept was a Japanese Zen garden. “But I wanted to put an American pop art spin to it — mosaic in bright red and yellow. So it’s kind of like a natural shape in a natural surrounding but very unnatural.” The end result is part environmental art, part meditative space and part playful structure a la Antoni Gaudí, whose aforementioned urban park in Barcelona, Spain, is perhaps the most immediate connection, informing, as it seems to do, the lively use of color, form, and tiled texture in Hendrix’s creation. The musical identity of the Bluff City also figures into the title, “Rock City,” which is not lost on Hendrix, who has been a presence on both the local indie music and art scenes (she played tenor saxophone for several years behind late Detroit soul legend Nathaniel Mayer and will be touring Europe in the fall with another soul great, Geno Washington). But these days she says she prefers to be known as artist/musician — in that order. Still, there’s a musicality of movement in the decorative flower-and-vine motifs of her sculptures, which are bejeweled by brilliant glass mosaic. Standing from 1 1/2 feet to 6 feet tall, the pieces will be installed at both entrances of Dalstrom Park’s footpath on Shelby Drive and Weaver. They were on display Friday only at Hendrix’s studio space inside 409 S. Main (home of Jay Etkin’s former gallery) before being crane-lifted out of the building and placed permanently in the park early this week. Hendrix was selected by the UrbanArt Commission, which oversees art enhancement projects in the greater Memphis area, for the assignment. She had submitted a similar idea for a park in Frayser but the commission felt the 75-acre Dalstrom, with its size and abundance of trees, was a better fit. “Dalstrom is really big and really beautiful,” says the commission’s director of public art, Elizabeth Alley. “We wanted something that would work with the landscape rather than putting art in more built-up areas like pavilions and picnic areas. These pieces contrast the surrounding trees and grass, so it works great within the landscape but it also works as markers for the trailheads on both sides of the park.” Built on foundations of steel, concrete and fiber glass that were created, says Hendrix, with the help of a Franklin, Tenn., rock-climbing designer, the sculptures are equipped for the kind of outdoor wear and tear that comes with being in a public park. “It’s ready for graffiti,” laughs the artist. “But you could still hurt it with a bullet — bullet-proof sealant is not on the market yet.”
Local artist Greeley Myatt remembers seeing beautiful patchwork quilts hanging from clotheslines near his grandparents' rural Mississippi home. Now, thanks to Myatt, urban dwellers can see similar patterns in downtown Memphis. The artist behind the UrbanArt Commission's latest installation, "Quiltsurround," Myatt created 32 panels constructed from old aluminum street signs to hide the large heating and air unit located in the southwest corner of City Hall. The "quilts" were installed last week. "We didn't have a very good budget for this, and the idea of recycling is part of quilting, so I had the idea of taking the street signs that the city was going to recycle," Myatt said. "I knew that material would withstand the outdoors." Using about 700 speed-limit, caution, and stop signs (and even a few Memphis City Beautiful signs), Myatt designed traditional quilt patterns in 4-by-12 foot panels. The panels, visible from Front Street and Adams Avenue, hide a chain-link fence and City Hall's heating and cooling system. "The city contacted us in late 2007 to do something about the eyesore effect of that equipment," said John Weeden, executive director of the UrbanArt Commission. "That unit had been on the roof of City Hall for a while, but for some reason, it was moved to ground level." Not only was the heating and cooling system ugly, it was also refuge for some of the city's homeless. "In the winter, it had become a place for people to camp out," Weeden said. "People were leaving their belongings, and there were sanitation issues because they were improvising with their bathroom facilities. It didn't give the best impression of the city of Memphis." With the help of a few University of Memphis art students, Myatt began crafting the panels last summer. "I started doing a series of sculptures based on quilts in the early '90s. They were painted signs that were cut up and put back together, but they were made out of wood," Myatt said. Weeden was drawn to Myatt's quilted-sculpture idea because of its social and cultural relevance as well as its dual function as both art and a barrier to unwelcome guests. "Quilt-making crosses racial and economic demographics in traditional Southern culture," Weeden said. "Just as a traditional quilt provides warmth, it's also beautiful. And this project both provides a service and is aesthetically pleasing."â€Š 9â€Š
A pair of works by Memphis artists Anthony Lee and Greely Myatt have been identified as among the best in the nation in the prestigious Public Art Year in Review, which is assembled by the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts organization.
Lee's “Modern Hieroglyphics” mural on South Main Street and Myatt's “Cloudy Thoughts” billboard on Madison Avenue were both privately funded public artworks developed in conjunction with Memphis' UrbanArt Commission. "This is a big deal," says John Weeden, the UAC's energetic executive director. There is an uncommon busy-ness in Weeden's Broad Avenue offices. The front of the sparely furnished space functions as an art studio and a group of teenagers from the city's summer work program are busy painting a "portable mural" on one of many giant vinyl banners donated by Clear Channel Communication, while the commission's skeleton crew of project managers peck away on their computers in the background.
"Modern Hieroglyphics" and "Cloudy Thoughts" were both produced with budgets of $5,000 for UrbanArt's10th anniversary series. That's a drop in the paint bucket compared to larger projects that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. "It's a good example of what can be accomplished with little expense," Weeden says.
There are more than 300 organizations similar to the Urban Art Commission across the United States, and Americans for the Arts recognized the top 40 projects in 2008-'09. "It's rare to see more than one in the same city, and it's even more uncommon that both projects came out of the same organization," Weeden says, explaining that cities such as New York and Chicago often have several, more specialized organizations dedicated to the creation of public art. "My master plan is to empower people to rebuild their city," Weeden says, noting that he gets one step closer to realizing this plan every time his organization works with a neighborhood association or community development group. "The groups learn what it takes to develop public art. They not only learn about the tools, they get to see the impact." Having a work of public art recognized isn't the same as getting a good review for a gallery show. Artists working on large-scale public works have essentially gone into the construction business, and the honor speaks to their project-management skills. According to Weeden it's not just good for Memphis and the UAC, it's a seal of approval that raises both Myatt's and Lee's national profiles.
Both "Cloudy Thoughts" and "Modern Hieroglyphics" were created to enliven urban elements which might otherwise be described as eyesores. The former decorated a blank concrete wall connected to the train station while the latter brought a whimsical aesthetic to a blank billboard. Weeden has often described his job as making "neighbors out of strangers," noting the ability of distinctive art and architecture to bring communities together and begin public dialogues that might not have happened otherwise. In this case, Weeden hopes the artworks have helped to open up a dialogue about the kinds of things that can be done to neglected or wasted spaces. That's a dialogue he intends to continue with the development of the UAC's portable mural project. Once painted, the vinyl banners can be used to screen off blighted lots or to cover damaged buildings in neighborhoods in 10 transition.
Word pictures: Song lyrics about trains, Memphis chug down South Main By Wayne Risher Posted May 29, 2009 at 12:05 a.m. Art boosters figure visitors to Central Station's block of South Main would rather wax poetic about Memphis and trains than behold a vacant lot. With that in mind, they created a public art installation in the 500 block that features snippets of songs ranging from Chuck Berry's "Memphis" to Roy Acuff's "Night Train to Memphis." The lyrics are stenciled on red-painted plywood panels on the east side of South Main past the Arcade Restaurant. The art grew out of collaboration among UrbanArt Commission, property owners, South Main supporters and the Center City Commission. "I call this particular type of project a poetry panel project," said UrbanArt executive director John Weeden. He said the organization plans to use it as a model for other neighborhoods and organizations that seek a simple, affordable way to spruce up problem properties. It's one of two recently completed projects designed to enhance the South Main Historic Arts District's visual appeal. The neighborhood association and Center City Commission also installed 34 pole-mounted banners advertising South Main destinations: trolley tours held the last Friday night of each month, Central Station, the National Civil Rights Museum and the Memphis Farmers Market. Center City snagged an $8,000 state grant to help with the banners and sponsoring businesses chipped in, said urban planner Lorie Chapman. The poetry panels, also referred to as lyric panels, form a fence fronting a lot that hasn't been developed yet because of environmental issues, said lot co-owner Tom Gattas, who owns a building next door at 574 S. Main. 13
With Gattas' blessings, the UrbanArt Commission and neighborhood association conceived, designed and painted the panels. A few dozen association volunteers and art students did the work. "John (Weeden) suggested lyrics from songs that referenced Memphis or referenced trains and their comings and goings, since it's across from Central Station," said Chapman. Other featured artists include Rufus Thomas, Junior Parker, Marc Cohn, Pam Tillis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom T. Hall, Big Bill Broonzy and Guy Clark. Themes of Memphis and trains refer to the district's rich musical legacy and the train station's role in transporting musicians of a bygone era, Weeden said. "That lot happens to be right across from the train station," he said. "It's near Earnestine and Hazel's and Wolf's Corner. It's right next to the Arcade, the city's oldest restaurant, where Rufus Thomas used to have his breakfast. It just made sense." "It ties together the train station, local artists and the city," Gattas added. "It looks fantastic." Debra Edge, owner of D'Edge Art and Unique Treasures at 550 S. Main, said the panels are an improvement. "I love the color," she said. "The area they boxed in is really sad, a wasted little patch of land. The red looks like somebody cares about it again." The panels subtly mirror another public art piece, Anthony Lee's "Modern Hieroglyphs," a series of iconic characters on Central Station's eastern face. Like Lee's characters, the panels progress from dark red on one end to orange-red on the other end. The banners and poetry panels help unify the district visually and give people a reason to linger in the area. The panels were "a really inexpensive way to cover up a bad place," neighborhood association president Brandon Herrington said. "I think it looks great. It's simple. That was the point. We wanted something that could be easily read as you pass by, that also covered up a bad spot. I think it accomplished both of those things." The banners add color and give glimpses of artwork and other offerings in galleries, restaurants and attractions. "It was something we had talked about a lot, something that would increase the eye appeal and encourage people to walk down the street more," Herrington said. "It pulls the businesses together," Edge said. "It makes you look down the row. It adds some color. We're trying to pull people further south. We're about as south as you can get." -- Wayne Risher: 529-2874
South Main lyric panels What: Murals containing words from classic songs with Memphis and train themes Where: East side of South Main between G.E. Patterson and St. Paul Who: Collaboration of South Main district, UrbanArt Commission, Center City Commission and property co-owner Tom Gattas Why: Uses public art to improve streetscape in front of vacant lotâ€Š 14â€Š
Leadership Academy fellows: Passion for Urban Art Organization director expands cultural boundaries in city By John Schranck, Special to The Commercial Appeal Posted May 23, 2009 at midnight John Weeden is helping push urban art to the forefront of the Memphis cultural scene. After graduating from Rhodes College in 1997, Weeden headed to Sotheby's Institute of Art in London where he earned his MA in contemporary art. He then earned a second master's from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. Weeden worked briefly at a contemporary arts center in Dundee, Scotland, before returning to Memphis in the mid-2000s to help launch the Center for the Outreach and Development of the Arts at Rhodes College as assistant director. "We designed a purposeful curriculum for arts leadership, stressing advocacy and the production of small-scale programs that could be run on their own," Weeden said. Through the Center for Outreach and Development of Arts, or CODA, students are able to participate in symposia and seminars featuring national experts while focusing on Memphis-centered arts projects. Weeden's background in urban art and academia has made him a top-notch student mentor. Last summer, he guided four Rhodes students who helped orchestrate the Rhodes-Hill Mural on Madison Avenue near AutoZone Park. Called "A Note for Hope," renowned lead artist Jeff Zimmerman chose to portray actual Memphians in this huge work. The largest outdoor mural ever painted in the Bluff City, "A Note for Hope" is slated to be featured on NBC's "Today" show this month.
As a Leadership Academy Fellow, Weeden worked with his classmates to implement a community action project called "Point of View." The eight-week photography program at Western Middle School taught Binghamton students things like the history of African-American photography, how to compose good photographs, how to operate digital cameras, and how to pursue photography and photojournalism professionally. "They were learning the nuts and bolts of realworld photography," says Weeden, who brought in guest speakers to further engage the students with the unique opportunity they might otherwise not have had. "At the end of the class, they got to keep their cameras so they could keep using the skills we'd helped them acquire." A year ago, Weeden left his position with CODA at Rhodes to become executive director of the UrbanArt Commission, where he works "to further the organization's mission to create a dynamic, vibrant and nurturing community through art and design." "It's the resilience and creativity of the people who live here that I like most about Memphis," says Weeden. "There's this very ingrained self-starter impulse. People here have this exuberance about what they're doing that can influence how we see our place in the world, and that, to me, is incredible."
Vietnam was called the "living room war" because Americans watched it unfold on their television sets. The conflict in Iraq has been a different national experience entirely, with a noted absence of body-count reporting and news photographers forbidden until recently from taking pictures of returning caskets. As a result, the national conversation has been largely ideological and short on nuance. This
The remains of a car bomb.
circumstance inspired British artist Jeremy Deller to imagine what might comprise a museum devoted to America's seven-year battle to bring stability and democracy to the Persian Gulf. Over a six-week period in February and March, Deller, in conjunction with the New Museum in New York, held an open forum for Iraqi refugees, soldiers, reporters, and scholars to discuss their impressions of what has happened and what is happening in Iraq. Deller is now touring America with an American soldier, an Iraqi, the mangled remains of a car, and "It Is What It Is," a collection of videos that feature conversations ranging from a soldier's mother explaining why she wasn't afraid for her son when he was deployed to Iraq to a soldier's recollection of the time when an Iraqi child presented him with a human foot in a plastic bag and asked who he should give it to. The artist's goal over the course of the tour is to continue the dialogue and to collect more honest conversations about America's role in the Middle East. On Friday, Memphis' UrbanArt Commission will host Deller and "It Is What It Is" at First Congregational Church in Cooper-Young. "UrbanArt's always enthusiastic to partner with interesting groups to expand our dialogue with other communities on relevant topics," says UrbanArt executive director John Weeden. "It Is What It Is: Conversations about Iraq," at First Congregational Church Friday, April 3rd, from noon to 5 p.m. 16
Some of Memphis' heaviest metal is about to get the recognition it deserves. On Friday, February 13th, prior to the opening night performance of Cyrano DeBegerac, Theatre Memphis' sculpture garden (also known as "Dramatis Personae") will become the Bluff City's first officially designated Public Art Heritage Site. Urban Arts Commission director John Weeden says he became aware of the need for just such a designation while creating a map of public art projects created in conjunction with the UAC. "These Heritage pieces deserve attention," Weeden says, explaining that Dramatis Personae is a prime example of the kind of works that established a precedent for what the UAC does today. "I don't think the community is always well versed in the origins of these pieces," Weeden adds. "A perfect example is the tile mosaic in the library at Lemoyne-Owen College. An artist named Ben Shahn created it sometime in the early 1960s. Shahn is a pivotal artist in post-war America. This is a real treasure and nobody seems to know that this piece is there. And it's just one of the treasures that adds to the livability of our city." Weeden hopes that the Heritage Site project, which is currently still in the planning and development stage, will encourage people to take notice of off-the-radar public art in their communities and neighborhoods. There could be a lot of stuff out there that's been overlooked and we want people to let us know about it," Weeden says. "If there’s some quirky park that a neighborhood made up, I want to know about that." Theatre Memphis' sculpture garden was commissioned in 1978 by the family of Hubert and Stella Menke and paid for in part by a grant for public art by the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. It was installed in 1979 in conjunction with the opening of TM's new facility at the corner of Southern and Perkins. Lon Anthony, an artist known for his visual puns and whimsical images was chosen to create the pieces. At the time of the commission Anthony, who now resides in Florida, was head of the Rhodes College Art Department. The UAC will eventually produce a map with information regarding Memphis public art heritage sites. The heritage site project will officially kick off at an invitation-only event at Theatre Memphis on Friday, February 13 at 6:30 p.m., prior to the performance of Cyrano, a sprawling romance based loosely on the life of Savinien de Cyrano, whose fictionalized likeness can be found in the garden. 17
In mid-September, the UrbanArt Commission issued a call to the "creative, interesting, and a little bit obsessed" for a show-and-tell event to be held this Saturday at the Cove. A raw-foodist and a furniture-maker responded, as did photographers and painters, along with a handful of others, who will each have six minutes and 40 seconds to present 20 slides, detailing their particular passion. The event, spearheaded by Joel Parsons, is based on pecha kucha, a short-and-sweet approach to presentations originally used by Japanese businessmen that has since spread to artistic communities around the globe. The idea, Parsons says, is to keep the presenter "on task" and the audience engaged. "We have one guy who makes recycled furniture from wood that he finds. We have a woman who eats only raw food, and she takes pictures and documents all her meals," Parson says. "We also have some more traditional fine artists. There's one woman who's going to show her collection of Kodachrome slides. One guy is going to show found photographs. He goes to thrift stores and collects photographs and then creates narratives around the photographs. It's a pretty good mix of people and subjects." According to Parsons, if the inaugural show-and-tell is successful, the commission hopes to hold the event every three or four months. "The idea is that a community will grow around this event, that people will come back time after time and bring their friends in â€” that it will be a great place for people in Memphis to meet other creative interesting people on a semiregular basis." UrbanArt Show-and-Tell, Saturday, November 1st, from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Cove, 2559 Broad.â€Š
'Ugly building' may get mural makeover
Rhodes-Hill project seeking artist for AutoZone neighbor By Megan Harris Posted July 26, 2008 at midnight Muted colors and boarded windows have long hidden the quiet interest of the old Toof building next to AutoZone Park at 195 Madison.
ABOVE: The mural projects in Philadelphia have served as the inspiration for the sort of artwork planned to renovate the exterior of the Toof building here in Memphis.
But a large-scale mural project will soon make the empty building difficult to ignore. The Rhodes College Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts is accepting proposals for the Rhodes-Hill project through Aug. 1. The selected artist will work with community members and stakeholders to design and create an original work across the building's eastern wall, clearly visible from the Memphis Redbirds stadium. "I owned an ugly building, and I didn't want it to be ugly anymore," Wilton "Chick" Hill told a friend when he decided to let an artist paint across 7,472 square feet of his Downtown property. He said the idea came to him while staying in Philadelphia. "I was in downtown Philly when I noticed these huge elaborate murals on big fancy buildings," Hill said. "Some were old, some new, but all of them added to the neighborhood in some way. I thought Memphis could do it, too." The project is being coordinated by the CODA program and Hill, a trustee of Rhodes College. Hill said he wanted to involve students from the beginning, and hopes to make it a permanent class at Rhodes. LEFT: The big blank wall adjacent to left field of AutoZone Park should, by April 2009, display a mural to ease or entertain the eyes of Redbirds' fans.
John Weeden, former assistant director of CODA and executive director of the Urban Art Commission, isn't worried about vandalism because, he says, the project belongs to the people. "In Philadelphia, you don't see these things vandalized because they work with residents over a series of weeks and months to come to an agreement of what's there and what could be there," Weeden said. "We want to do the same thing here, and Chick Hill doesn't do anything on a small scale." Local artist Dwayne Butcher is excited about the mural. Fresh off his last project, he plans to submit a proposal that will represent more than the "obligatory Elvis, Isaac Hayes, and B.B. King." "I have thought about it for quite a while now," Butcher said. "What I look for and appreciate in murals is how they accentuate the community in which they are placed." Built in 1913, the Toof Building was most recently the intended location of a minor league baseball museum set to include memorabilia and high-tech interactive exhibits. Dave Chase, president of baseball operations for the Memphis Redbirds Foundation, was set to serve as the museum's director in 2000. "We spent a couple of years working on it, but after 9/11, the economy wasn't in a position to accept the $40 million price tag." Chase said park officials support the mural project. -- Megan Harris: 529-2701
Artist creates mosaic with help of middle school students, faculty By Megan Harris Posted July 23, 2008 at midnight
Under an opaque veil of thick plastic tarps, a group of a five people shuffle to and fro, grouting the last of more than 250,000 individual pieces of handmade tile in a mosaic of vast proportions. The project is a creation of local artist Kristi Duckworth for White Station Middle School. For nearly six months, she worked with more than 1,100 students and faculty to complete what is easily her largest project to date. "I have been working very hard on this in a dark, dusty, hot warehouse for the last five months with a dozen or so people helping me," she said. To see it all come together, she said, is almost overwhelming. Her husband, Jim, agreed. He saw the mosaic when she laid it out, but his mouth flew open when he walked in recently and saw the piece nearly complete. "We've been watching it grow for months, but this is something else. It's really amazing," he said. A 40-by-75-foot wall inside the new middle school, south of the junction of interstates 40 and 240 and opened in 2007, was selected by Duckworth in her proposal. The plan was submitted a year ago to the UrbanArt Commission as part of the Percent-for-Art program. Passed in 2001 by the Memphis school board, the program allocates 1percent of the budget of each new school construction and renovation towards an art installation. For the middle school, that was $141,000. Duckworth spent months at the school with her materials, helping the sixth- through eighth-graders create their tiles. Once made, she would take the tiles to her home, fire them, and bring them back to be painted and glazed. Eventually, the tiles were thin-set to cement boards and transported to the school, where she and her crew have been working diligently for nearly two weeks to complete the installation before school starts Aug 11. White Station Middle School principal Eric Sullivan said most visitors who peek in are amazed at what Duckworth has created. â€Š
"It's a timeless piece that lets everyone take some ownership in a building we're still getting used to," Sullivan said proudly. Elizabeth Alley, the UrbanArt Commission's director of public work, managed the project, and she is looking forward to seeing the finished product. "I think it's great," Alley said. "The mosaic's never going to become another part of the wall. No matter how long you stare at it there's always something new to see." A dedication will be held to officially unveil the project at a date yet to be determined. Separate but Equal The UrbanArt Commission is an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that works as a subcontractor for the City of Memphis and Memphis City Schools to administer two independent Percentfor-Art programs. Based on a similar structure, all Percent-for-Art projects are funded by a 1 percent allocation of the yearly budget for all new constructions and renovations. City of Memphis Based on Memphis' latest estimated population of 674,000, each person would pay about 19 cents per year to fund the commission's operating budget of $130,000. Memphis City Schools Percent-for-Art is a voluntary program approved by the Memphis school board in December 2001 to be funded by their yearly budget.
RIGHT: Artist Kristi Duckworth puts the finishing touches on a mosaic that she created at White Station Middle School. The work was financed by the Percent-for-Art program, which allocates funds for an art project at new schools.
Last week, as part of upcoming public art projects, a small group of local artists gathered to learn about the redevelopment of two historic public housing sites in Memphis.
residents," says Tom Currell, vice president of McCormack Baron Salazar's Memphis office. "We feel like an art installation can go a long way toward enhancing that."
"As an artist, you want the complete freedom to manifest an idea from within," says metalsmith Tootsie Bell. "Working for a commission, the project is essentially your customer, and you want some direction, vague though it may be, of a purpose."
At the workshop, Elizabeth Alley, the UrbanArt Commission's public art director, presented artists with an overview of a recent community-oriented project in the Rugby Gates neighborhood at Overton Crossing at James Road in Frayser.
The UrbanArt Commission, along with developers McCormack Baron Salazar, is seeking proposals for public art at Legends Park and University Place. The deadline for proposals is Wednesday, August 6th. Legends Park will be built
The project consisted of a series of brick columns that identify the neighborhood's entrance and pay tribute to the historic stone gates that once stood there. Artists also were given a brief history and shown master plans for both development sites. "We don't always have the
on the former Dixie Homes opportunity to give artists Possible plans for a green space at the entrance of Legends Park. public housing site across this much information about from Le Bonheur Children's a site at the beginning of a Medical Center. The area was home to an project," Alley says. "It's good to be able to give the African-American community called Queen artists this chance ... to help them develop ideas." Bee Bottoms in the early 1900s. Mark Nowell, local metal sculptor, has won several University Place is located just off Interstate 240 at Lamar and replaces Lamar Terrace, built in 1939 and one of the Memphis Housing Authority's oldest developments. UrbanArt and Salazar want the projects to reflect the history and culture of the sites. Because both locations are highly visible to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, they also hope for iconic art installations. "[The projects] are important for the community in creating a sense of place, and our hope is that beyond the rebuilding of houses we're trying to create some special places for neighborhood
public art projects over the years. He says these workshops are great for artists. "When a representative from the community gives you an emotional expression of what they might want, when a human being stands there and says, 'My grandfather grew up there,' it really helps," Nowell says. "As an artist, you're looking for a morsel of inspiration." The budget for the art projects will be $100,000 for University Place and $75,000 for the first phase of the Legends Park development. 22
Lasers at play Downtown in 'Emerald Aura' project By Nevin Batiwalla Posted May 16, 2008 at midnight
As people walk past a busy Downtown corner, some are perplexed when a green light appears on the sidewalk and follows their every movement. Many just keep walking, but others start to dance and play with the light. Sure enough, the amoeba-like, neon halo changes as they move.
Downtown pedestrians check out a laser light show called "Emerald Aura," sponsored by the Urban Art Commission, on the corner of Main and Peabody Place. The show starts each night at dusk and goes until midnight, running until May 26.
These are the reactions that light sculptor Dan Corson wanted to spark with his public art project, "Emerald Aura," at the corner of Main and Peabody Place. "It's really about social interaction of people who become part of the art," Corson said. "I think people will find that to be intriguing." Corson, a nationally recognized artist from Seattle whose high-tech public light displays have been engaging people in cities around the world, pulled off his latest project with a combination of lasers, sensors and tracking software usually used by surveillance companies, all mounted 200 feet high atop the Peabody Place Tower. The whimsical and playful piece, which displays screensaver-like patterns when no one is walking by, also makes a more serious statement about the post-9/11 world of heightened surveillance, said the artist. "On another level it is reminding people nowadays in our society we are constantly being observed and tracked," Corson said. "Emerald Aura," which is visible from dark until midnight, will run through May 26. The piece marks the 10th and final installment in "Interactions/Interruptions: 10 Years of Public Art in Memphis," an art exhibition celebrating the Urban Art Commission's 10th anniversary. John Weeden, commission executive director, said public art is all about getting the community to feel "excited, attached and involved." He said people are tired of rundown areas and abandoned buildings. "These projects show what public spaces can do and how our landscape and environment shape our perception of ourselves." -- Nevin Batiwalla: 529-2681 -------------------Lights at night What: A public art project created by light sculptor Dan Corson Where: At the corner of Main and Peabody Place When: Continues nightly from sundown to midnight through May 26 Why: To celebrate the Urban Art Commission's 10th anniversary --------------------
In December, Carissa Hussong, founding executive director of Memphis' UrbanArt Commission, left the organization she helped create to become executive director of the National Ornamental Metal Museum. She's been replaced by John Weeden, a lanky, bespectacled Memphis native and Rhodes College graduate, with a pair of artrelated master's degrees from Sotheby's in London and New York's Bard College. In its 10-year existence, the UrbanArt Commission, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the development and implementation of public art, has stirred up its share of controversy. It also has had a measurable impact on the Bluff City's physical identity by creating such major public artworks as the Cooper-Young trestle project and the epically conceived sculpture group that greets visitors to the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. Weeden, who most recently worked as assistant director of the Rhodes College Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts, is astonished by how much the commission has accomplished in a decade. But he's convinced that the surface has barely been scratched. The Flyer recently talked to Weeden about UrbanArt and the state of public art in Memphis. Flyer: You've noted that there weren't many art jobs available in Memphis when you returned from Europe, where you were having some success as a curator. What inspired you to come back? John Weeden: I was in Europe, living my dream. I was a curator working with contemporary artists from around the world. That's what I worked my butt off for and dragged myself through two graduate programs to get to. But a couple of factors influenced my decision to return to Memphis: My father had some health issues while I was abroad. Thankfully, that's no longer a motivating factor. But also, while I was overseas dealing with artists in a professional capacity, I noticed this trend: Nomadism was in vogue. Everybody seemed motivated by a sense of dislocation, because they didn't identify with any one place or any particular culture. It boggled my mind that these people didn't connect with anybody else, or any place or culture. That was when it occurred to me that I have a connection to a place and to a culture and to a group of people who love me and care about me. And that place is Memphis. I value that. You can call anyplace home, but you have to work for it. If you don't work for it, you'll always be dislocated. Carissa Hussong put so much of herself into the UrbanArt Commission and took some grief as its public face. Are there pitfalls — or advantages — to being the second person to hold the position? Carissa devoted herself to it, and sometimes she got a lot of flack for learning how to do things, because she was the first person to try and do this here. She deserves all the kudos in the world, because when nothing's been done before, there's a steep learning curve. Some things will work, some will work only halfway, and some will leave you saying, "Damn, I wish I hadn't done that." Luckily for me, she's run interference and done a lot of the heavy lifting. Now we've got to maintain relationships that have already been built. But also we must identify what can be done differently and better. And what's been done perhaps unsuccessfully in the past. It's taken the organization 10 years to build a firm foundation for how the commission completes its work. And there are areas in terms of community building that have not been done that successfully. Where have things gone wrong? Well, UrbanArt is a very small organization. It's just two full-time staff people and me and an administrative assistant who comes in two days a week. So, when you've got 30 or more projects going on at one time, the project-management side of that alone evaporates all of your available outreach possibilities. Luckily, now we've gotten the project-management process down pretty well. We know how to complete things. Elizabeth Alley is the director of public art. Laura Caroline Johnson, the project coordinator, has been training under 24 Elizabeth to do much
the same kind of work. My job will include overseeing the projects but not the day-to-day nuts and bolts. I want Memphis to understand that this is an organization that works for everyone. I want to help communities understand that they can engender their own projects. They can have an active voice in determining not only what their neighborhood looks like but what it says in terms of identity. We're here to make landmarks. We're here to "build home" through art and design. It must help having grown up here. It's a big advantage that I grew up here and have a pretty good idea how people think and what their values are, aesthetically and communitywise. My motivation in any project is going to be based on what the community wants to do. Without community ownership and without the belief that these projects matter to the community — that they represent something the community aspires to be — ultimately the organization isn't going to do very well. Not everything will be community-generated, will it? Some of these ideas and artists will come from other places. There is a balance that you have to strike — between community-invented and -originated projects that express what the community wants to be and international cuttingedge design. There's no reason it all should be one or the other. These ideas can work together in concert and inform each other. Any prime examples of what the city has done right and wrong, design-wise? Certain areas get it exactly right in stretches, then a few blocks away it all falls apart. South Main is a prominent example of some great neighborhood development over the past several years. When I was in high school, you didn't go down there unless you wanted to get into trouble and get robbed. When I turned 16 and got my driver's license, my parents told me, "You can go anywhere in the city but downtown." That's changed because of the efforts of the Center City Commission, UrbanArt, the South Main Association, Power House, the Civil Rights Museum, Delta Axis, and all these other organizations combining their resources, ingenuity, and ideas to work on this space — to say, "If we do this with purpose, something can really happen here." But if it's going to be an arts district in the long-term, more things have to happen. There has to be affordable housing for artists, actors, filmmakers, and so on. It would behoove the city and those who care about this issue to work with developers and take that next step. Is that something UrbanArt can do anything about? Not directly, but it's all related. Art is one component of building these creative public spaces that lead to connecting people to a spot. They care more about what happens. They look after it; they look after their neighbors. They look after their home more. Once you have that connectedness, you have a community. And art in public places is a key component to urban
planning. So, when I talk about having art in public places, I'm not talking about plopping something down somewhere and then stepping back and saying, "Wow, it's pretty now!" I'm about looking at the support structure underneath it: How do you arrive at having that art installed there? There are a lot of people who have been working very hard behind the scenes for a lot of years to arrive at this very moment. And it feels like there's a lot of pregnant material here. If we take these next steps in concert and full awareness of what everybody else is doing, then we can be more productive. UrbanArt needs to be a part of that conversation, because it can help to structure what the end result looks like. Memphis has its share of blighted areas and lots of disposable strip-mall culture. Can public art reverse these trends, or is it just ornament? I'm sure a lot of these trends can be reversed, but you'd have to go at it in a rather drastic, wholesale way. Otherwise, you're just putting on trimmings and making things cutesy. And cutesy is not what we want. We want to be a real town with a recognizable identity, voice, and character that we can project to the rest of the world. The world already knows Memphis for its music and its literature, but I want Memphis to be known as an art town. And it can be. That's not to say I can help every artist in town get on the art map. There are a lot of misconceptions regarding UrbanArt's funding structure. Every time a new project starts, there's grumbling about wasted tax dollars. Why does that happen over and over again? UrbanArt has not always accomplished good public awareness. There are people in this town who don't know it exists. Or if they know it exists, they don't know what it was designed to be or what it is now. And then they wildly misassume the funding structure. People think it's a government body. It's not. It's a 501(c)(3) that gets partial funding from the city as a subcontractor. The fractions of pennies paid for every year by tax dollars is probably getting the best payback of any investment you can make — at least, if you're comparing price to result — because we only get 48 percent or less of our operating budget from the city. That figure for this year is about $130,000 to cover the salaries of four people, rent, and the MLGW bill. That's what the tax dollars are going for. That's half a drop in a giant bucket. And with that, we build more dynamic landscapes and landmark spaces, and we build better relationships between neighbors through creative practice. Where does the rest of UrbanArt's money come from? The rest we have to source through the Tennessee Arts Council and Arts Memphis. And nobody's paying taxes to Arts Memphis; they raise their own money.
What do you say to people who think public-art projects are frivolous? Art will always be a punching bag to someone who doesn't agree with it. It doesn't matter if it's art, music, theater. Art's a sitting duck because so many people feel like its extraneous or elitist or whatever. But think about an art project in Binghampton, where kids are learning to use digital cameras for the first time. Then it's not extraneous. There's a creative and constructive outlet, rather than a destructive one. For those kids, it's not elitist. It's bread and butter and "thank God I found this because my world is opening up and I've got another possibility to do something better with my life." Those are the kinds of projects I want people to know about, and those are the kinds of projects I want to do more of. I want to get the power of art — art making, art producing, and art conversations — into communities. If you build these communities of art producers, not just passersby or consumers, it's going to catch fire — in a good way.
John Weeden By Design: UrbanArt's supergraphics along South Main at Central Station.
Iron Maiden Carissa Hussong trades UrbanArt for heavy metal. "I guess I'm in that classic 'bound to fail' position," jokes Carissa Hussong, former head of the UrbanArt Commission. She's sitting in the quaintly cluttered second-floor office of the National Ornamental Metal Museum, where she now serves as executive director. Like everyone who's ever encountered her larger-than-life-size predecessor, Jim "Wally" Wallace, the master metalsmith who founded the enduring south bluff museum, she's a little overwhelmed. And although she readily admits to having no original ideas yet for leaving her mark on the facility, she has no intention of failing either. "When I first took this job, everybody would come up to me and say, 'Tell me all about the Metal Museum.' 'What's your vision?' 'What is it that you want to do?' And I didn't know what I should tell them. I didn't know if what I was thinking about doing was in keeping with the things that really needed to be done. And I didn't want to say a bunch of things just to say them. "I don't think I have a huge vision," Hussong admits, running down a list of changes that range from making the facility more handicap-accessible to growing the museum's artist-in-residency program. "Everything I've put down on paper has either come from suggestions made by staff and board members or from things I've found in previous business plans. "It's not about coming in here and developing a lot of new programs. It's about taking existing programs to the next level," Hussong asserts, allowing that the museum's needs are somewhat paradoxical. Although the facility is located on the southern edge of downtown, the Metal Museum is a quiet, introspective place, where visitors can discover the wonders of traditional metal-working or just get away from it all to watch the river roll by. "Whatever we do, I don't want to lose that sense that when you come here you are coming to a very special place. Of course, we want more people to know about it, and we want them to come. But it's not grow, grow, grow. We have to grow carefully and wisely and strategically. "Most people don't even know we have an artist-in-residency program," Hussong says, setting up a smart-growth example. "I think we'll have a waiting list for that program, once people know about it." Why did Hussong leave UrbanArt after 10 years? "I was ready for a change," she says. "It may seem like there's a lot of turnover right now," she adds, noting that the Dixon Gallery and Gardens also has a new director and that the Brooks Museum is casting about to fill its top slot. "But usually there aren't a lot of opportunities for these kinds of jobs in the Memphis art world. "After a while, my job [at UrbanArt] stopped being about art," she says. "It was more about construction and about the whole committee process. And that just wasn't what I wanted the rest of my career to be about." There were other issues that drove Hussong to look for another position. She was plagued by speculation that her job created a conflict of interest, because her husband, David Lusk of David Lusk Gallery, represents a substantial group of regional artists. "I was always so careful about that perception — to the detriment of his artists," Hussong says. "Because if anybody really suffered, it was the artists he represented. I just couldn't promote them. So it was the right time for me to move on. And it was the right time for the organization as well." Hussong describes her new position as "everything I'd done, combined into one position," pointing out that she will continue to be involved in the creation of public artwork, only this time as a contractor.
New UrbanArt director Weeden moves to support works in the public domain
"That could have been handled differently," said Weeden. "If the neighborhoods along the parkways had been informed of what was going to happen and what was involved in the project, the reaction might not have been so extreme. A little PR work could have made a big difference."
"If the public has to ask what a work of art is," said John Weeden, "then you're not developing a good relationship with the public."
As executive director of UrbanArt, Weeden will oversee an annual budget of $500,000 to $900,000 devoted to artistic enhancement of public buildings and outdoor spaces ranging from largescale architectural projects, such as the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts and the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, to police precinct stations, community centers and trolley stops, to public memorials, parks and walkways.
Weeden, recently designated as the executive director of the UrbanArt Commission, expressed a keen desire to forge an open understanding between the organization that oversees art enhancements to public buildings and spaces and the local communities that support them.
UrbanArt is funded by the city of Memphis, ArtsMemphis, the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Hyde Foundation and by the "OnePercent" ordinance passed by the City Council in 2002 that allows 1 percent of the city's general construction fund, up to $1 million each year, to be applied to art enhancements.
"You have to be more strategic in what projects are trying to accomplish," Weeden said. "You have to strike a balance between the academic intellectual practice and the 'visible feast' practice with color and shape and narrative that's easy to recognize as art."
While most of its funding is public money, some of UrbanArt's projects are privately funded; these include the artworks for the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library and the projects, some still on display, commissioned to celebrate the organization's 10th anniversary.
Weeden, 33, takes the post on May 5. He succeeds Carissa Hussong, who resigned last year, after leading the commission since its inception in 1997, to become executive director of the National Ornamental Metal Museum.
After a national search for a new director, the executive committee of the UrbanArt Commission narrowed the field to four finalists. The nod went to Weeden, the local candidate.
By Fredric Koeppel Thursday, April 17, 2008
Presently, Weeden is assistant director of the Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts (CODA) at Rhodes College. His comments come after public art and public perceptions clashed in March, when one of the temporary projects designed to commemorate UrbanArt's 10th anniversary raised considerable controversy. "Blue Parkways," by Tad Lauritzen Wright, involved wrapping ribbons of blue vinyl around trees in the medians of North, East and South parkways, to symbolize the city's connection to its western boundary, the Mississippi River. The ribbons were marked by cartoon drawings of rows of connected houses and people holding hands as expressions of community. The community didn't see it that way. Many of the ribbons were taken off the trees almost as fast as the artist and his assistants put them up; people assumed that the ribbons marked trees that were to be felled or felt at least that they were intrusions into the landscape of flowering trees along the parkways.
"They were four really good candidates," said architect Charles Shipp, chairman of the UrbanArt board of trustees, "but we decided that John had both the arts background and the local connections as well as the energy and promise we were looking for. We told John that we expected him to take UrbanArt to the next level, and we think he's perfect for the position." "I grew up around art," Weeden said, and he credits a grandfather who was both carpenter and artist for inspiring his initial interest in art. Weeden's family moved to Memphis from Conway, Ark., in 1987. He grew up in East Memphis, attended White Station for junior high and high school playing trombone in the band and then went to Rhodes College, where his father, now retired, was the director of financial aid. His mother teaches at Presbyterian Day School. "At White Station," said Weeden, "I became involved in theater and music, and I went to Rhodes on a fine arts/theater scholarship. There I was introduced to art history by David McCarthy and to curating by Marina Pacini's gallery management class."
Pacini, who is married to McCarthy and is now chief curator at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, recognized Weeden's ambition when he took her class 12 years ago. "John was fearless when other students held back," said Pacini. "He would always go up to artists and ask questions and make notes. He was always seeking to understand the art and the artists and the issues being addressed. He is relentless, and I mean that in the best sense." Weeden has a master of arts degree in contemporary art history from the Sotheby's Institute in London and will receive a second M.A. from the Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies in May. Pacini and McCarthy kept in touch with their former student during his travels and foreign sojourns and watched his activities in Memphis, as he curated exhibitions for Delta Axis at Marshall Arts and Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and founded and served as first director of Lantana Projects, a nonprofit group that brings international artists to Memphis for residencies and exhibitions. "I would say that John's best qualities are his enthusiasm and curiosity and catholic (universal) tastes," Pacini said. "Those were evident when he was an undergraduate. Now, though, I think he's tempered those elements with the wisdom he has gained through his education and experience. He has become an arts professional who will make a notable difference in the community." Weeden worked at UrbanArt as an interim project coordinator "in the early days. I got a real eyeopener about how these projects work. They were doing the Cannon Center then and the Central Library, doing big things in a condensed period of time." A profound influence on Weeden's attitudes toward
public art derive from time he spent living in Scotland and the UK. "They're doing certain things very right," he said. "There's a commitment to art not just as a social good but as a social need. There's a belief that art strengthens culture and society overall. To see those lessons lived large still influences the types of things I would like to try and how I talk about these issues, why they matter and how they can be best accomplished." Weeden cites two motivations for applying for the job of executive director of UrbanArt. "First," he said, "UrbanArt has a track record of completed projects, they do things in concrete practice. My current job is a great gig, but it's a teaching job for the most part, not a production job. Given my curator's I like to get jobs done." Weeden's second motivation has to do with the relationship between UrbanArt and the public. "Everyone seems to agree that UrbanArt has been able to lay foundations and create expectations, but there's a feeling of seeing what else could happen, a need to make art more visible and more accessible. Even after 10 years, the general public doesn't seem to know what UAC is. People think it's a government thing, and they have the perception that the public has no say into what goes on in their landscape." Other ideas on Weeden's agenda include enhancing the profiles of local artists "this is a great town in which to make art, and I would like to help artists make their work more accessible" and producing "more temporary curated projects on a more regular basis." The result of these methods may prove that "Memphis is not just about blues and barbecue. It's a dynamic art town with a dynamic art practice." Fredric Koeppel: 5292376
Weeden named to UrbanArt post Memphian to assume UAC duties on May 5 By Fredric Koeppel Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Memphian John Weeden has been named executive director of the UrbanArt Commission. He assumes the post on May 5. The director of the UAC oversees $500,000 to $900,000 annually in public money that finances artistic enhancements to public buildings and spaces ranging from largescale architectural projects, such as the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts and the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, to police precinct stations, community centers and trolley stops to memorials, parks and walkways. Weeden, 33, is the UAC's second executive director. He takes over from Carissa Hussong, who led the organization for 10 years from its inception until she resigned last September to become executive director of the National Ornamental Metal Museum. Weeden graduated from White Station High School and Rhodes College. He has a master of arts degree in contemporary art history from the Sotheby's Institute in London and will receive a second M.A. from the Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies in May. UAC's new director has a long history of arts involvement in Memphis. As an independent curator, he has organized exhibitions of contemporary art for Delta Axis and Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. He was the founder and first director of Lantana Projects, a nonprofit group that brings international artists to Memphis for short residencies and exhibitions. In his current position as assistant director of the Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts at Rhodes College, Weeden supervises visiting artist programs and community arts outreach projects, as well as leading a CODA Fellows program for scholarship students in the areas of arts advocacy and project planning. Weeden maintains a personal blog about the arts and cultural issues in Memphis: weeden artswatch.blogspot.com. Fredric Koeppel: 5292376 29
Passersby stroll past the intersection of Main Street and Peabody Place in Downtown and a pulsating beam of green light appears under their feet. Caught off guard but amused, the pedestrians hold out their arms and move a little to see what the beam of light will do. It dances on the ground like the emerald shadow of a hulahoop. “Get it off me!” one young man joked as he walked north on Main Street Sunday night. Over at AutoZone Park, meanwhile, the nearly 100-year-old office building at 195 Madison Ave. next to the ballpark’s left field – and which is visible from the stands – is being studied by the same arts group responsible for the laser light display on Main. That group is the UrbanArt Commission. With its involvement, an effort has begun to solicit ideas for and an artist to create a large mural on one side of the currently vacant building. A variety of school officials and Downtown stakeholders will have a say in choosing who gets to paint the building and what exactly that person will be painting. Both projects are among the newest of the UrbanArt Commission’s efforts to add a colorful, creative and occasionally whimsical touch to the city’s public scenery. The group took its ideas for both projects before members of the Center City Commission’s Design Review Board last week for approval and for general feedback. ‘Emerald Aura’ The light display on Main Street, which emanates from a laser mounted on Peabody Place Tower, is the last in a group of 10 public art pieces to be installed this year as part of the UrbanArt Commission’s 10th anniversary. “Dan Corson is an artist that specializes in lighting design and effects,” said John Weeden, executive director of the UrbanArt Commission. “And in his practice, one of the common tools that he employs is the use of laser-lighting technology. So what he is doing in the brickwork plaza right there at Main and Peabody Place is he’s mounted a laser on top of (Peabody Place Tower), the very top, and it’s aiming down. “There’s a greenish hue to the light. And what it does is it’s triggered by a motion detector. What happens is, say someone
rounds that corner and walks across the brickwork. Well, the light will surround their footsteps as they walk across the plaza.” The beams of light are only visible after sunset. The project’s title is “Emerald Aura,” and it’s a temporary public art piece that will remain visible and operational through May 26. Corson, a Seattle-based artist, said the artwork partly was inspired by the heightened surveillance and security measures in place at various public points of interest over the last few years. “The piece was originally inspired by some video footage of surveillance detection software used for security purposes,” he said. “I saw this as a possibility and started thinking how since 9/11 we’re under a high level of scrutiny as far as everyone kind of being monitored. So I started kind of blending this idea of allowing that monitoring that’s normally invisible to become visible. “And then I was thinking we could take this and translate it into a laser that becomes a way of acknowledging that we’re being observed and tracked. Not only does this (art piece) allow one person to engage in and interact with the art specifically, but it allows people who don’t know each other to engage with the art and have a conversation with each other about it.” Still in the works The mural project for the building at 195 Madison, meanwhile, is still in the planning stages. That building is owned by Wilton Hill, a trustee of Rhodes College. The idea for the mural project came out of a discussion between Hill and Rhodes president Bill Trout about the visible condition of the city and the ability of Rhodes students to pursue a variety of art-oriented beautification projects. That project is being done in conjunction with the Rhodes College Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts (CODA), and Weeden said it could begin soon after a plan is nailed down. “We hope to begin in July – if so, we could complete this by January,” Weeden told the DRB.
Who better to replace a founding director than another founding director? In January, UrbanArt Commission head Carissa Hussong will replace Jim Wallace at the National Ornamental Metal Museum. Wallace, who led the Metal Museum for more than 25 years, will retire December 31st. Hussong has been with UrbanArt since its inception 10 years ago. Wallace's spot may be filled, but UrbanArt is still seeking someone to replace Hussong. Applications will be accepted through November 30th. — Mary Cashiola Flyer: What was the best part of working with UrbanArt? Hussong: When people don't know that I have anything to do with UrbanArt and they tell me about a project that we did and how much they love it, then I feel I've accomplished something. Is there a project that has been especially meaningful? They have different meanings and there are different memories associated with each of them, so it's hard to pick one. The Cooper-Young trestle was early on. When I went into it, I felt certain I could find an example of another trestle somewhere. I called all over the country and everyone said, "That's a great idea. I can't wait to see what happens." There was nothing that showed this had been done anyplace else. I was thinking, I can't believe I got myself into this. But it ended up being something the community really loved. What are you eager to do at the metal museum? I'm looking forward to getting back into the museum world — that's where I started out — and focusing on the artistic side. So much of what I have been doing has been facilitating. What will be a challenge for you? It's hard to follow in a founding director's footsteps. I'm not a blacksmith; I'm not an artist. I have to find a way to replace those skill sets. People have a fear that the museum will change. Yes, we're moving into the 21st century, but it has to be a balance between growing and preserving what the museum is. I don't see myself going in there and drastically changing the museum. What is UrbanArt looking for in your replacement? Everybody's initial thought is we have to replace the director. The Metal Museum said we need to find somebody who is a blacksmith and an executive director. That's a hard thing to find. I think I'm a little easier to replace. They need somebody with an arts background. Being able to work with our various constituents is really important: the City Council, Memphis City Schools, community representatives. Whoever comes in has to be able to work with those various groups and really engage them in the process.
Cancer survivors united to build a tangible way to encourage others facing the dreaded disease By Michael Lollar Posted November 19, 2007 at 12:05 a.m.â€Š
Shirley Farnsworth had been through two bouts of cancer when she learned about the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation and its sponsorship of parks dedicated to cancer survivors, their families and friends. Farnsworth telephoned the foundation in 1995, asking about the possibility of a Memphis park. Twelve years and more than $1 million later, the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Park is preparing to open next week as the 23rd such park in the nation. It holds special meaning for Farnsworth, 73, whose second bout with cancer came with a prognosis of 21/2 to 4 years. If the doctor had been right, she wouldn't have been around to see the opening of a park based on hope and the idea that cancer is not a death sentence. The 3.5-acre Memphis park is on the eastern boundary of Audubon Park at Perkins and Perkins Extended (immediately west of Theatre Memphis). The formal dedication is at 2 p.m. Nov 26 with the park named in honor of Richard Bloch, the late founder of the H & R Block tax preparation service, and his wife, Annette, who is scheduled to be present for the brief opening ceremony, along with Mayor Willie Herenton. The event is open to the public. Richard Bloch was given only three months to live when diagnosed with lung cancer, but he survived for 28 years before dying of a heart condition in 2004. When he defied the odds, he and his wife decided to fund special parks to inspire hope for others in the fight against cancer. The first park opened in 1990 in Kansas City, Mo., home of the Bloch foundation. Farnsworth said she read about the parks in an issue of Coping magazine. In addition to the Bloch foundation, she contacted the Memphis Park Commission, Center City Commission and the City Council, among others, encouraging them to apply for a Memphis park. It would become almost a community effort. Another cancer survivor, Sandy Patterson, said she learned of the parks through a brochure left by a pharmaceutical salesman at the Wings Cancer Foundation, a support group which Patterson had helped found for cancer survivors. She also began pushing for a Memphis park and was part of a committee formed by then-City Councilman John Vergos to help find a location for the park. The long delay in completing the park stemmed largely from finding the location. Sites proposed and rejected included Confederate and Forrest parks and a piece of vacant land at Poplar and Highland. Interest groups and neighbors objected in each case. Vergos said he feared the city would lose the Bloch funding until the Audubon location was suggested.
Patterson, 46, a breast cancer survivor, said the long wait for the park is worth it. "I think it's going to be really spectacular. It's absolutely exhilarating. I can't wait to see the city's reaction." Farnsworth, who has worked as a volunteer on the Bloch foundation's Cancer Hotline, said the park, like the hotline, is a symbol of hope that is crucial to cancer patients. She recovered from colon cancer (diagnosed in 1990) and still takes medication to prevent a recurrence of acute myelogenous leukemia (diagnosed in 1993). Farnsworth said she never gave up hope and lived to see what many hailed as a miracle drug (Gleevec), which stopped the progress of her leukemia in 1999. "If I hadn't had hope I don't think I would have held on. That's what the park is -- a sense of hope." Her husband, Sid, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005, and he has shown no signs of the disease since radiation treatment, she said. The Memphis park features several focal points, including themes common to every park sponsored by the Blochs. One required element is a bronze sculpture by Mexican sculptor Victor Salmones with eight human figures passing through a maze depicting the "cancer journey." Park visitors can walk through the maze sculpture as a symbol of their own journey. Each park also includes a positive mental attitude walk with 14 plaques bearing inspirational thoughts for those with cancer and suggestions for fighting cancer. The other required element is a "road to recovery" pathway with seven plaques explaining what cancer is and actions to take to overcome the disease. Memphis architect Dianne Dixon, landscape architect Michael Lemm, artists Kristi Duckworth and Yvonne Bobo and park services landscape architect Keith Schnadelbach were among collaborators who came up with original ideas to give the Memphis park its own flavor. At the center of the park is a labyrinth based on one of the most famous labyrinths in the world at Chartres Cathedral near Paris. Unlike a maze, the labyrinth has no dead-ends. It is a walking path, which meanders through four quadrants in a circle. The quadrants represent arms of the cross with the journey bringing the walker closer and closer to the center and the ideal of enlightenment. Another Memphis theme is a series of butterfly sculptures, which Bobo designed as a symbol of hope and a celebration of nature. Duckworth designed a "Tree of Life" mosaic as part of a wall overlooking the labyrinth. She involved the community by getting cancer survivors and families touched by cancer to paint individual tiles that were glazed and fit into the mosaic. Artists and their works were chosen by the UrbanArt Commission, which also accepted donations from the public for plantings, benches and major design themes including the Tree of Life, which was sponsored by The West Clinic, a cancer treatment and research facility. Duckworth said her mother survived breast cancer for 15 years before dying, and a close friend also died of breast cancer. For her, the Tree of Life mosaic and the park as a whole became a mission: "The purpose of the cancer survivor park should be to inspire peace, hope, love and joy and a sense of connectedness. ... To let those who have cancer know that they are not alone, that there are others going through the same thing and there are others who have gone through it already, but more importantly to inspire in everyone who visits the park a sense of connectedness to life and to everything on Earth." Vangie Rich, executive director of the Bloch foundation, said the Memphis park "is going to be wonderful." The foundation provided $900,000 for park construction, a one-time $100,000 maintenance fee (with maintenance to be covered by annual interest on the $100,000) and $150,000 to pay for the sculpture and plaques. "We're very excited about the design. The butterfly sculptures are symbols of hope, and the mosaic is going to be beautiful. I truly believe the Memphis park is going to be one of our prettiest parks." -- Michael Lollar: 529-2793â€Š